A few days ago I received an invitation from a computer to review a manuscript. The computer's name is Webmedcentral, it seems, and it's the latest incarnation of Open Access file uploading. At the moment you can publish (ie upload a file to said computer) free of charge, but that's gonna change by January 2012. None of the computer's content is indexed in any databases at all, except tragically by google scholar.
The paper I was asked to review consisted of 427 words and 2 references. The computer explained to me that the paper had been published already, and that the review would take place after publication of the article in question. Authors could then publish revised versions of their article in response to the reviews received, or ignore the reviews altogether. Either way, said computer (hardwarewise not that different from other Open Access 'journals' - and neither quality wise in all too many instances) explains on its website that it has 'have full faith in the honesty and integrity of the scientific community and firmly believe[s] that most researchers and authors who have something to contribute should have an opportunity to do so.' Despite strong evidence of widespread cheating in academia trust is what drives this computer.
How does this thing work then? 'We have introduced a novel method of post publication peer review, which is author driven. It is the authors' responsibility to actively solicit at least three reviews on their article. During the submission stage the authors are asked to provide details of three reviewers who are contacted by the WebmedCentral team when the article is published. Authors can seek more reviews, if they so wish. We discourage authors from choosing their reviewers selectively.'
'Our peer review process is author driven. With our innovative method of publishing, peer review takes place after publication. It is authors' responsibility to organise at least three reviews for their articles. We aim to generate an open debate on the article after its publication. WebmedCentral reserves the right to invite additional reviews as and when necessary.
All pretty clear: any crook can pick his or her best mates to 'review' content they have already 'published'. They're strongly encouraged not to be crooks, of course. That should just do the trick.
The computer mentions in passing that it has neither an Editor nor an Editorial Board: 'With our model of publishing, we do not need an editor or editorial board for our journal. Authors are completely in charge of the entire publication process including soliciting reviews and submitting revised versions of the manuscripts if needed.' It's kinda unclear how a journal without Editor or Editorial Board is going to solicit further reviews, 'if needed', but hey, minor detail in the big swing of the Webmedcentral universe.
There is a bit of confusion, too (well, I remained confused about the modus operandi). It seems as if you'd upload your papers free of charge to the computer, then have the article send to your three best mates whose compliments will also be 'published'. If they review more than three other files they can send more of their own non-reviewed drivel for publication purposes to the Webmedcentral server. Basic maths would suggest that soon review co-operatives identifiable by one's three best mates will monopolize much of Webmedcentral's file uploading activities. According to Webmedcentral the comments are also considered publications. It goes without saying that in this uploading orgy minor details such as doi identifiers are missing, but hey, it's a minor detail while you 'publish' a paper per hour to beef up your publications record.
It's all pretty random and no doubt databases controlled by people as opposed to algorithms will not index stuff emanating from webmedcentral. Google scholar at least is happily indexing the contents on the Webmedcentral server. The price you pay for letting machines do the job humans arguably should be doing.
The only nice thing is that webmedcentral could easily be confused with biomedcentral. It couldn't hit a nicer 'publisher' :-).
Oh, the list of shame, aka academics prepared to be associated with this charade, is here. What people confuse with academic publishing here is academics publishing anything they feel like. No different to my blog really... feel free to comment (aka 'review' in Webmedcentral lingo).